Jerusalem, Moro and Ottolenghi and inspired dinner

I have recently become addicted to three cookbooks I acquired from Amazon and our local library. They are, in order of favouritism,

1. Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

2. Moro by Samuel and Samantha Clark

3. Ottolenghi also by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Why the addiction – well these books respect vegetables like I have been taught to respect them as a life time vegetarian. Growing up in a South Indian household, my mother and grandma had endless ways of making vegetables exciting and I try and continue this tradition till today. However, I’m also a little more adventurous that mum and grandma and I cannot eat the same/similar things day in and day out. This is something I did quite gladly did when I was still dependent on my parents, but ever since I’ve moved out on my own, my kitchen has been a bit of a playground, as is this blog I host.

Jerusalem, Moro and Ottolenghi, while laden with meat-based recipes are also quite generous with their coverage of vegetable/vegetarian dishes from Eastern Mediterranean regions, Israel, Palestine with influences from Italy, Spain and Northern Africa. Overall, these vegetables are prepared quite differently (most of the time) to how I’d prepare them as a person of South Indian upbringing and I find that really really exciting. Sometimes, I find some similarities and start thinking about the origins of certain food and how recipes might have travelled from one region to another in ancient time.

To summarize it is food, vegetarian food, exciting vegetarian food and I love it! Food to me is most satisfying when I’ve made it and others are enjoying it 🙂 An opportunity presented itself when we decided to host a dinner and board games evening at our place. While I usually cook Indian food, I decided that I’d try recipes from my recently acquired books instead. There was a deathly silence as everyone sat eating until one of our friends spoke up and said , “You know the food is good when everyone is too busy eating and cannot stop to speak”. I’m going to call it a successful experiment based on this !

My menu and links to the recipes are presented below. I managed to take a lot of pictures for the first few dishes and then ran out of time and my guests arrived so I couldn’t keep clicking any more. Hope you try some of the recipes and like them !

Menu for board games night

Menu for board games night

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Asparagus and potato bake

It is amazing what one can find in a fridge if one looks hard enough. I have been on a mission to empty the contents of my fridge ever since my return from a conference trip. This task seems never ending and the more I take out, the more there seems to be. Since Sunday the 5th of May Friday the 10th of May, I have made (1) brie and chive biscuits (2) gouda, chilli and rosemary biscuits (3) a banana raspberry cake (4) a flan aux speculoos (gingerbread flan) (5) fresh yoghurt (6) a yoghurt based curry with spinach (7) eggplant with miso glaze (8) chickpea bread (9) asparagus and potato bake (10) sautĂ©ed okra and the fridge is still not empty. You must imagine that I am a veritable fatty eating all this food but I’m not doing too badly….right now at least. In my defence, I shared pretty much all the snack-like/sweet things with friends and colleagues.

Where does the asparagus and potato bake come into this ? Well as you might have guess, I had asparagus and potato – check! On Tuesday night, I went to a friend’s for dinner and she made this amazing eggplant parmigiana with a beautiful tomato sauce (http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2876664/roast-aubergine-parmigiana). I also had mozzarella that needed to be used soon. So I decided to put all these things together and make an asparagus-potato “parmigiana” if you will. I then wondered what I’d like to eat it with and bread seemed an ideal candidate. Since our local Sainsbury’s (and most English supermarkets) stock nothing but crap bread, I decided I’d make my own. For bread recipes, I trust a fellow-blogger  Silvia (http://silviascucina.net/) where I came across an interesting take on bread involving chickpea (http://silviascucina.net/2011/10/08/chickpea-garbanzo-beans-bread/). I took it one step further and made it with some chickpea flour and fine cornmeal. The overall result was quite exciting. I was quite pleased with myself before the realisation hit me that there was no way I could eat 2 small loaves of bread and a baking dish full of “parmigiana”. So off it went to the neighbours and they thought it was decent so here I am talking about it.

Do give this recipe a try and tell me what you think! I still can’t get over the fact that everything I put in this dish was in my fridge/pantry/herb garden 🙂

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Asparagus-potato-bake-with-chickpea-bread

Ingredients (Picture 1 below):

15-20 spears of baby asparagus

1/2 a large potato , sliced into 3mm thick slices

400 gms (1 can) of chopped Roma or cherry tomatoes

125 gm ball of mozzarella, halved and then cut into 3mm thick slices

5 pieces of sun-dried tomato, finely chopped

1/2 cup of grated smoked cheddar or grated parmesan

1/2 cup of stuffing mix (I used a toasted chestnut, roasted hazelnut and thyme one)

1 tablespoon of honey

2 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1 hot red chilli, finely chopped (optional)

1 tablespoon of thyme, finely chopped

a handful of mint, coarsely chopped (substituted for basil so use basil if you have some)

2 tablespoons of oil

salt to suit your taste

pepper to suit your taste

Method:

1. Grease a baking dish with oil/butter and preheat the oven to 180ÂșC.

2. Heat the oil in a deep pot and when hot, throw in the asparagus spears. Cook the spears until you see a bit of brown blistering on their skin.

3. Remove the asparagus from the pot and arrange them to cover the bottom of the baking dish. Grind some sea salt over them (Picture 2).

4. Add the potato the the same pot, add a pinch of salt and cook until the pieces of potato start to blister and go brown (Picture 3).

5. Remove the potato slices from the pot and arrange them on top of the asparagus (Picture 4).

6. Sprinkle the potato with the chopped mint and some freshly ground pepper (Picture 4).

7. Top the pot with a tablespoon of oil if required and add the thyme, chilli and garlic to the pot (Picture 5). Cook them until the raw smell of garlic no longer lingers. Don’t let the chilli burn or you will go into a coughing fit.

8. To the chilli/garlic mixture, add the canned tomatoes, chopped sun-dried tomatoes and honey. Season with enough salt to suit your taste (Picture 6).

9. Bring the sauce to a boil and take the sauce off the heat.

10. Arrange pieces of mozzarella on top of the potato layer in the baking dish. Sprinkle half the cheddar/parmesan on top of the mozzarella and grind some more pepper onto the cheese (Picture 7).

11. Pour the tomato sauce on the cheese layer and spread it so that it covers the entire dish (Picture 8).

12. Cover the dish with silver foil and bake for 30-40 mins in the oven (Picture 9).

13. During this time, mix the remaining cheddar/parmesan with the stuffing mix to use as a crunchy topping (Pictures 10 & 11).

14. After 30-40 minutes, remove the silver foil from the dish and check that the potatoes are soft and your knife/skewer should go right through it.

15. Sprinkle the cheddar-stuffing mixture on top of the tomato sauce and bake for another 10-12 minutes until the cheese has melted into a golden brown colour (Picture 12).

16. Serve while warm with some fresh bread (Pictures 13-15) or couscous (Picture 16 and main picture above).

Tips:

1. I find stuffing a more exciting substitute for a breadcrumb topping. Keep a box of it in your pantry and stock up after Christmas when it is usually on sale 🙂

2. After all that, I don’t think I liked the asparagus in the dish so much. I would make it again just with the potato or some other vegetable.

3. If you want to make it a vegan dish, leave the cheese out and use a mixture of breadcrumbs, herbs and olive-spread to make the crunchy topping.

Pictures:

Method for asparagus-potato bake

Method for asparagus-potato bake

Gemista (Capsicum/Peppers stuffed with rice)

There is a very famous Greek tavern in Melbourne’s Cebtral Business District called ‘Stalactities’. It is a Melbourne icon and a friend to all those who are still out and about at wee hours of the morning as it is open 24-7. It was here that I first tasted a gemista and my first reaction to it was ‘too minty’ and ‘too much rice’. Having grown up in a South-Indian household eating rice 3 or 4 times a day, I generally try and avoid eating it as much as I can and so this dish was a big thumbs-down.

However, in the last couple of years, I’ve started making  my version of the gemista which is not so minty and has a few more flavours than just rice. I also cut the capsicums/peppers in half which in no means is traditional but ah well. The parmesan on top too isn’t very authentic but I like it and my partner hasn’t complained so far so I’ll assume he does too. I hope you like it too.

Peppers stuffed with rice and topped with cheese

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